I’ve recently discovered this thing called “journalistic integrity.” The thing is, you’re supposed to tell people if the article you’re writing is in any way biased, or if you as a writer aren’t being 100% objective. It’s supposed to be wild. So let me start this thing by saying that I love James Ellroy, I love his books, I especially love the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy, and that my copy of Blood’s a Rover is an ARC that was sent to me by the publisher. With that in mind, I’ll try and present as fair and balanced a review as I can. Let the Great Experiment begin!
It’s been eight long years since The Cold Six Thousand was published. Plenty of time for us to get our hopes up, hopes that once the new book came out it would make our collective socks roll up and down. Rest assured that Ellroy’s brought his A game. His protagonists certainly haven’t lost any of their piss. Returning is ex-cop Wayne Tedrow Junior, who after the events of the last novel, has finally come into his own. Also returning is FBI man Dwight Holly, in hock and working for J. Edgar Hoover. Rounding out Ellroy’s trifecta is kid P.I. Donald “Crutch” Crutchfield, who’s forced his way into the life, and may not live long enough to regret it.
Blood’s a Rover continues the various and sundry plot lines from the previous books while setting up several new ones. The Mob is bilking Howard Hughes and using the cash to build casinos in the Dominican Republic. A declining J. Edgar Hoover continues his crusade against black America, this time setting his sights on the militant movement. And of course there’s Cuba, the monkey no one can seem to shake off their back.
If you were to describe the first two books in the trilogy as “sprawling,” you could describe the third as “personal.” In American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, Ellroy wrote what he writes best: hard-hitting badass noir. Only then he threw it up on a much grander stage. It reached across oceans and included everyone from the President of the United States to low-level gangsters. There’s no shortage of any of that in Rover — as Ellroy says, the book is filled with his trademark craaaaazy shit — but Ellroy does seem to have gone back to some of the more familiar ground he tread in his L.A. Quartet.
The book opens in Los Angeles, with an armored car heist and a load of stolen emeralds. It’s a setting and a crime that Ellroy is very much at home with. He also returns to one of his most prevalent themes: powerful women. This time it’s in the form of Joan Klein, the Red Goddess who quickly becomes the obsession of Ellroy’s protagonists. Actually, the female characters in Rover are the most powerful Ellroy has ever written. The power they hold over men isn’t just sexual, but real power.
I think that for Ellroy, writing Blood’s a Rover was extremely cathartic. Anyone who’s read his memoir, My Dark Places won’t be able to help but see Ellroy himself inside Donald Crutchfield. With that in mind, we see that it’s Ellroy himself who’s living, not what’s explicitly described in the books, but what those events are representative of. Destruction. The fascination with the darkness inside us all. Perhaps most importantly, the power that women have over the lives of men. This is why I would describe the book as personal. Crutchfield makes his bones after throwing in his lot in with Tedrow and Holly, but it’s Ellroy we see making that journey. The man who emerges on the other side is mature. He embraces, respects, and accepts the process that’s made him who he is. This gives us a new appreciation for the book’s title, which was taken from “Reveille,” a poem by A.E. Housman.
Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover;
Breath’s a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad; when the journey’s over
There’ll be time enough for sleep.
I have to admit, when I first read Blood’s a Rover, I wasn’t sure what to think. It was only when I looked at it in the context of the entire trilogy that I realized what a powerful book it was. Ellroy’s characters are paying the price for their dark deeds, and that story provides the trilogy with a perfect third act. The author, through his characters speaks with a maturity and wisdom that until this point we have not seen in him. For years we’ve waited and Ellroy hasn’t disappointed. He’s finally delivered his masterpiece.
Blood’s a Rover will be released on September 22. You can preorder it now at amazon.com.